Vic Davila and Yamil Marrero both had unenviable tasks heading into the 2012-13 season.
For the past three seasons, Nature Coast had built itself into one of the finer programs in the state primarily around center Tyler Bergantino and point guard Blake Lowman.
But graduation eventually led Bergantino to Division I UMass, and Lowman to D-II Florida Southern College.
The Sharks figured to fade back to the pack; instead they captured a district championship and advanced to the Sweet 16.
"We definitely exceeded everyone else's expectations," Davila said. "Everybody was talking like we were not even the best team in the county, let alone the North Suncoast. Nobody really believed in us except ourselves. We definitely proved everybody wrong."
Marrero, the big man who took Bergantino's place, and Davila, who grabbed the reigns of the offense from Lowman, were a big reason why. Each garnered All-County honors.
Now they, too, have moved on the next level, but they won't part ways quite yet. After Marrero signed with Pasco-Hernando Community College in the spring, Davila made a surprise change over the past few weeks to also ink with the Conquistadors.
"He's like my brother, he's my point guard," Marrero said of Davila. "Going to PHCC alone was new for me. I didn't know what to expect. Now to be with someone I've played with for four years, it makes me feel better about adjusting."
"He's like my brother," Davila said in echoing Marrero's sentiment. "It's unreal how much chemistry we have. It's like we've been playing our whole lives."
Both of these former Sharks certainly took circuitous routes to reach this point.
Marrero, 6-foot-4, averaged a double-double this past season, 10 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He was also the county's leading shot blocker at 1.7 per contest.
However, his name probably didn't resonate within the local hoops circuit prior this most recent campaign.
He played JV as a freshman, then as a sophomore Marrero was academically ineligible. He received limited minutes in 10 games as a junior before transferring to a school in New Hampshire at midseason. By last summer, he had reenrolled at Nature Coast.
From having the game taken away from him because of poor grades to accepting an offer to play in college surely marked a stark turnaround.
"It made me appreciate it so much," Marrero said. "I worked so hard on the court and off the court to get this scholarship. I means so much more because now I'm about to play college basketball and not too many are able to say that.
"I could have been on varsity my sophomore year. I regret being immature and young and I didn't care about school. My junior and senior year I realized what the game meant to me."
Marrero earned the opportunity after he so aptly stood in for the departed, 6-foot-9 Bergantino. He teamed with power forward Rohan Blackwood and reserve Sam Mazzia to still provide the Sharks with a considerable size edge in the paint.
"That was our whole thing this year, trying to get over our Final Four team from last year," Marrero said. "I knew being the center I had really big shoes to fill. My teammates had my back.
"At first I was nervous that everybody would think I'm not as good as Tyler. But we played different. He's a big, big man. I'm an undersized big man. I was focused on playing the way I needed to play to help my team win, not the way Tyler played."
Marrero was actually recruited and signed by then PHCC head coach James Johnson, who made an offer to him after he finished as the MVP of an all-star game at the school.
Michael Jones, a former Hernando High standout and coach at Challenger K-8 and West Hernando Middle School, has since taken over the program.
"I know how he is as a person," Marrero said of Jones. "He's a great coach, very dedicated."
In addition to receiving a full scholarship offer from the Conquistadors, Marrero admitted that he wanted to stay near his family, factoring heavily into his decision.
So for now, as he studies to become a physical therapist, he hopes to attract the attention of a four-year school while helping the PHCC frontcourt.
"My role is probably going to be what it was at Nature Coast," Marrero said. "They need someone who is going to come off the bench with energy, rebound, block shots. They need a big man who can run.
"I'm trying to work my way to the top and hopefully get a starting spot. But as long as I contribute, I'll be happy."
Davila was a four-year player within the Nature Coast program, and a varsity starter for most of the past two seasons.
He played a complementary role in 2011-12 as the Sharks marched to their first state semifinal appearance, averaging 3.3 points, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals while knocking down 22 shots from beyond the arc.
Though Davila started until late in the postseason, Lowman was the primary playmaker while senior Donovan Ingram received significant playing time in a reserve role.
"Junior year, it was 'Vic, whenever you get the ball, shoot a three.' I didn't have to do much else," Davila said. "This year, it was 'This is your team, you've got to control it.' It was a challenge, but I felt I took control and we were a pretty good team."
He paced the county in assists, averaging 6.7, go to with 6.0 points and 2.1 steals a game.
Where he truly left his mark, though, was in postseason play. His 3-pointer in the closing seconds of overtime in the Class 5A, District 7 championship game lifted the Sharks to a 58-56 victory over Eustis.
Davila nearly posted a double-double in that one with 11 points and nine assists, then averaged 13.5 points, 5.5 assists and 2.2 steals in two regional tilts.
In the regional semifinals, when the Sharks hosted Eustis, Davila nearly burned the Panthers again. He knocked down a pair of treys down the stretch, one with a minute to go to put Nature Coast ahead, 59-56.
Yet the game eventually went to overtime, and Eustis pulled away for a 73-62 triumph.
"It was tough, especially the way we lost, too," Davila said. "Going to the Final Four is where we had our sights at. The way we lost, I didn't know what to do with my life for a while."
Davila thought his playing days were done. He had one offer to play D-II, but he didn't like the school academically.
It wasn't just about hoops for Davila. He graduated with a 4.13 grade point average, including 4.0 in law classes. He intended to become a criminal defense attorney, and picked Florida State University for its highly touted program in that area.
This summer he had already attended orientation, registered for classes and lined up his dorm.
"I still want to be a lawyer. I'm not sure if I want to be in criminal law, but I still plan to go into law school after my four years are over," Davila said.
"I really wanted to play basketball. All everybody was telling me was 'You're too good to stop playing.' But I just didn't think it was for me. I was never OK with not playing, but I came to the realization that it wasn't going to happen."
Then Jones, who Davila first met when he was going to Challenger, called with an opportunity.
"As soon as Coach Jones called, I already knew what I wanted to do," Davila said. "I didn't need to think about it.
"I love basketball and I wanted to play really bad. And there's the money issue, as well."
Davila pointed out that staying close to home will allow him to save up. Plus he can finally play for Jones on a full-time basis.
By the time Davila had moved up to the varsity level with the Navigators, Jones had departed. Davila did get to play for Jones for one game at the JV level as a sixth-grader, when Jones subbed for his father, Marion, who was the regular JV mentor.
"It's pretty special," Davila said. "Not only am I playing college basketball, but playing for somebody I know has the best intentions for me, and I want to make him better. I'll do whatever I have to do to make him look good because I know he'll do whatever he can to make me look good."
If that leads to yet another chapter in his athletic endeavors, so be it.
"I'm rolling with the punches life is throwing at me right now," Davila said. "I felt like basketball chose me. I feel like this is what I was meant to do."
By the number: Vic Davila
YR GP PTS PPG AST APG STL SPG
Jr 31 102 3.3 54 1.7 41 1.3
Sr 25 151 6.0 168 6.7 52 2.1
Totals 63 258 4.1 223 3.5 95 1.5
By the numbers: Yamil Marrero
YR GP PTS PPG REB RPG BLK BPG
Jr 10 20 2.0 15 1.5 1 0.1
Sr 24 239 10.0 253 10.5 40 1.7
Totals 34 259 7.6 268 7.9 41 1.2